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Finding common ground through collaboration

2017 Clore Social Fellows Stuart Dexter and Joanna McCreadie share their reflections about the commonalities and differences between their organisations, and their plans to collaborate.

And so it came to pass, four intrepid explorers finished their board meeting and set off to cross the border in search of a half decent curry and some ideas of how to integrate animals into their work. The coalescing of like-minds felt like the start of something bigger, inspiring all involved to dare to aim high. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the beginning…

Stuart was telling Joanna about his new role at an autism charity, Daisy Chain. Joanna said that she’d be interested in learning more about Daisy Chain’s use of animals. Joanna is CEO of Seamab, a residential school in Scotland for children with multiple and complex needs. They have just started to keep some animals at the school, and thus plans were made for a team from Seamab to visit the Daisy Chain farm.

We got to know each other over a fiery jalfrezi and bountiful thalis and began to realise how well aligned our approach to working with children and young people who have faced significant challenges were. What become apparent was that a youth and community work approach was beneficial in engaging with children and young people for whom mainstream schooling just didn’t work. We learnt of a shared appetite to take risks but, most of all, we learnt of a shared value of being ‘human’ when working with people. We learned that we were not afraid to show that we care.

An early start followed and we talked in more detail about the two organisations and realised further the significant commonalities. Fortified, we had a look around the Daisy Chain centre and toured the grounds, ending at the Daisy Chain farm.

All was going well until our Scottish friends were introduced to Daisy Chain’s skinny pigs. For those of you unaware, skinny pigs are a mutant, hairless guinea pig. Usually, once the initial revulsion has passed people find them cute. Alas, for one of the Seamab team the revulsion intensified, eliciting a surprisingly strong reaction.

Skinny pig mum with babies, Daisy Chain Project

We split into two teams; Jody and Alistair stayed on the farm with Michelle, Daisy Chain’s Farm Manager and Stuart, Gary and Joanna retired once more to Stuart’s office to talk future plans and building developments.

So what did we learn and does this partnership have a future? To the latter question the answer is almost certainly yes. Daisy Chain has been invited to Seamab for a return visit, an invitation we intend to accept. We’re also considering opportunities for a formal partnership project.

And the learning? That there is an approach to the work, a set of values and a value in people that we have in common. That a desire to aim high and innovate, to have aspirations and not accept the orthodoxy as the only way things can be done goes a long way when working with some of the most vulnerable members of society.

And we had a nice curry.

Stuart Dexter, Chief Executive of Daisy Chain

It’s not that often that the Seamab team has had the chance to visit other charities, or have open and in depth discussions about the joy and challenges of working with children. Our focus is usually on what is happening now, and what we are planning to do next in Seamab.

One of the unanticipated strengths of the Clore Social Fellowship is the opportunity for teams from separate charities to engage with each other, learn from each other and potentially work together. Talking with Stuart after an action learning set, it became clear that while our two charities deliver different services, we share a commitment to finding, and implementing interesting ways of working, always with the aim of making a positive difference. As well, having recently rescued some chickens, at Seamab we were beginning to think that we were on to a new idea of having more animals around to support the children. Of course, Daisy Chain have already had this idea, and added pretty impressive bells and whistles, so we thought we could borrow some of their thinking and expertise….

Our first impressions on arrival at Daisy Chain were of an open, welcoming space and buildings. There was a mixture of new development and old farm buildings. We were all really impressed by the services Daisy Chain offers, and their approach to how they support children, young people, and families. It was obvious this is an organisation interested in how they can make a practical difference. There was an acceptance of the challenges of this and an interest in continuing to develop and improve.

While the farm is wonderful – it’s not an end in itself. Rather, caring for the animals and spending time with them, supported by skilled adults, is a positive experience that has multiple benefits for children and young people across all aspects of their lives.

And the skinny pigs…well, it’s the first time any of us has seen our colleague move that fast (away from the skinny pig) and maintain that kind of distance (clearly he thought it would be able to leap out the farm manager's arms) or deny so vociferously any fear. As supportive colleagues we respected his feelings and haven’t mentioned it since – those skinny pig photos that found their way into his office were, honestly, a surprise to all of us.

What next? Stuart and I think we (and our teams) share values and a philosophy about practice. We can feel that there will be opportunities to learn from each other, and potentially, work together. We’re already planning to purchase some pigs for the children at Seamab, and have the offer of expert advice from Daisy Chain’s farm manager. Our next step is a visit to Seamab by the Daisy Chain team. We think we can see that curry and raise it brilliant fish and chips in our local hostelry!

Joanna McCreadie, Chief Executive of Seamab

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